We now recognize the downsides of social media platforms. But, when we start work for the day, we plug into a firehose of messages not dissimilar from Facebook’s News Feed. While sitting on a Zoom call, we conduct a side conversation in chat and also watch alerts in another channel. We try to write code or draft a blog post, but end up opening chat every six minutes. We’re constantly interrupted, and these “work tools” stop us from doing our work.
We’ve conflated urgency with importance. While chat excels at delivering urgent information, it falls short in facilitating meaningful discussions. We need a different platform built for important conversations - one that’s asynchronous, thoughtful, and structured. So, I built Booklet to solve the problem of too many chat messages at work and in communities.
Booklet is a modern discussion forum and member directory for professional groups. Inspired by Google Groups and old internet forums, Booklet organizes discussions into threads so you can choose which topics to follow. And, it sends a daily newsletter neatly summarizing new posts and activities to all members - so everybody can stay engaged without having to stay logged in.
Workplace communication isn’t yet solved
As communication gets easier, people communicate more often. Without structure, we end up over-collaborating, and chat messages become the default workflow for everything from quick questions to managerial decision-making. Chat is inherently synchronous, and synchronous communication is inherently interruptive. If you don’t monitor and react in real time, you miss out.
The result is that remote work today resembles a stock trading floor from the 1980s - with constant noise, interruptions, and distractions from chat.
Some jobs require real time collaboration, such as stock trading. But, most knowledge work requires long periods of uninterrupted focus and flow to make progress.
Writers have long understood that writing is a process of deep work and that it requires a quiet, distraction-free environment. Michael Pollan built a cabin in the woods behind his house to be a quiet place optimized for productive writing.
Booklet seeks to be the digital equivalent of Pollan’s cabin. It’s a communication platform that treats your attention as a scarce resource, so you can treat work and communication as distinct activities.
The future of work is asynchronous
Internet community patterns typically follow the 1% rule, where:
- 1% of members create
- 9% of members contribute by commenting, voting, or liking
- 90% of members read and never interact
In today’s chat-centric environment, there’s a skewed emphasis on the ease of posting. We rarely pause to consider the broader implication: for every message posted, it’s likely to be read 100 times by other people. Yet, we continue to post more and more low-value messages, because it’s easy to do so.
For the vast 99% majority who are on the receiving end, chat becomes a source of stress. Constant notifications require frequent context shifts. Unstructured discussions make it difficult to follow along. And, the lack of summaries means onlookers are left out of the loop.
Knowledge work becomes more productive when non-urgent communication gets shifted to an asynchronous format. Thoughtful, long-form communications promote deeper thinking and better decision-making. This insight led Amazon to ban PowerPoint in meetings, and instead require 6-page memos to be read silently at the start of meetings. Programmers have long recognized the efficiency of this approach in their work, utilizing batch processing to have computers efficiently handle repetitive tasks. We need to apply a batching approach to our communication.
Second communities as early adopters
While workplace communication needs to be changed, it has a captive audience. People are incentivized to participate in their company’s chat platform, or else.
Booklet aims to change workplace communication. But, its first adopters have been what I call “second communities” - groups formed around an interest, passion, or connection, but whose communication comes second to their jobs. These second communities often adopt Slack or Discord, but see engagement decrease over time as members cannot dedicate enough attention to more chat-based communities. Second communities desperately need a better tool for communication. Booklet solves this problem by using structured discussions that get summarized into a daily email, enabling communities like FRCTNL to thrive.
Newsletter as a killer feature
The first community on Booklet was Dimes Square Ventures, a community I organize of independent software makers in New York City. As busy founders, we wanted a way to stay in touch without too much noise or distraction. We’ve found that Booklet’s daily email is the perfect way to stay informed and contribute when we have time. When I see members in real life, even if they haven’t posted recently on Booklet - they are still informed because the newsletter takes only a few seconds to scan. The best part is that people can participate as much as they want, without feeling like they’re bothering others by triggering too many notifications.
Something I didn’t expect was the popularity of long-running discussions in Booklet communities - such as Dimes Square Ventures’ ongoing “Best remote work spots in NYC” thread. These ongoing discussions would get buried in chat, but thrive and continue to be useful on Booklet. The newsletter highlights these “active discussions”, and members can follow along at their own pace.
The success of long-running threads shows how communications can compound into knowledge over time, continuing to be useful and discoverable in the future. As Booklet grows, it seeks to be a repository of knowledge for communities.
Try it free
Today Booklet launches on Product Hunt. Try it out at www.booklet.group, where you can create a community, invite members, and start discussions. Booklet has a free tier intended for hobby and social communities, with no limits on members or discussions. As your community grows, paid add-ons such as custom domains help you scale. You can also see Booklet in action at hq.booklet.group - the community for Booklet itself.
Try Booklet out, and let me know what you think,
We’re simply not wired to monitor an ongoing stream of unpredictable communication at the same time that we’re trying to also finish actual work. […] We both love and hate Slack because this company built the right tool for the wrong way to work.
- Cal Newport, in The New Yorker